This post was first published on The Write Practice.
You stare and stare at the page, but you just can’t get yourself motivated to write. Nothing you write feels right, anyway. In fact, nothing about this process seems to feel right. You’re bored and uninspired, and the whole writing process is feeling stale.
It’s not writer’s block—you’re stuck in a creative rut.
Don’t feel bad, ruts are just part of the ebb and flow of the creative life. Honestly, they’re inevitable. But while you don’t have much control over when you experience a rut, you do have control over how long you’re in it. By taking certain actions, you can fight your way back into your writing flow again.
Column by E.J. Wenstrom, author of MUD (2015, City Owl Press).
E.J. is a fantasy and science fiction author. Her debut novel is the
first in the Chronicles of the Third Realm War series, and was awarded
Florida Writing Association's top honor as Book of the Year. She writes
for websites about comics, writing and geek culture—find her bylines in
Book Riot Comics, The Mary Sue, DIY MFA and more. Follow her on
Facebook and Twitter, and get a sneak peek at Mud’s first chapter here.
Here are 5 steps to dig yourself back out of a creative rut:
1. Show up
When you’re in a rut, it can be tempting to park yourself in front of the TV and wait for the muse to come back to you. But the truth is, this will only prolong your rut.
Instead, keep showing up. Even if you don’t think you’ll write a single word, it’s important to keep getting yourself in front of your work-in-progress on a regular basis. In fact, make it a habit. It won’t be immediate, but if you show up on a regular schedule to write, your muse will start showing up, too.
But even as you wait for your muse to show up, you might be surprised at what you accomplish. After just five minutes of staring at my draft, my mind starts to get bored and the words start to come. Even if they’re not the best words I’ve ever written, it’s still better than nothing—lines on the page give me something to come back and edit later.
2. Shut it down
It’s easy to feel distracted and spread too thin in this world. We’ve got jobs, families, books to read, shows to keep up with, and a new post or text is popping up every second. It’s no wonder we lose focus on our side projects in the midst of all that.
So close the door. Put down the phone. Disconnect from the Internet. Let that quiet sink in and listen to what your mind says to you. Isn’t that better?
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When I start listening to myself during a creative rut, I often find that I’ve overwhelmed myself with work and stopped giving myself the rest I need. Listen to your mind and your body to see what you need—perhaps it’s a night out, or more sleep, or a mental break from the stress.
I encourage you to do whatever you need to give yourself a break and take care of yourself (even if it means ignoring step 1 for a day). Take one morning and sleep in, or block out an afternoon for some binge watching—whatever you need to recharge.
4. Start small
If appropriate, make a list of tasks you need to complete for your work-in-progress, and order them from easiest to hardest. Or, find the point of re-entry into your manuscript that feels easiest. Start there, even if it means writing out of order. Starting with what feels easy is a great way to rebuild your confidence and tap into your flow.
5. Read a book
Read a book about the writing, creativity, or even just a novel that inspires you. It’s a great way to learn and improve your craft. And it never fails to get me excited about writing again, and give me a ton of new ideas. If you’re at a loss, I recommend Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird or Stephen King’s On Writing.
Just Stick With It
We all hit a creative rut on occasion. The trick is not to let it get in your head and drag you down. Instead, keep your confidence up and use these steps to dig your way back out of it.
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- Need writing ideas & inspiration?: Check your daily newspaper.
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